New playoff format set to pour gasoline on old rivalries

April 8, 2014, by

We might be seeing a whole lot of this ugly face in the coming weeks

Pretty much since the moment I first heard about realignment, I wasn’t a fan. It seemed silly to me to dramatically restructure the league when more changes might have to be made in short order due to relocation or expansion (although the likelihood of that has been reduced). I thought it was unfair that both Eastern Conference divisions housed an additional team, reducing each member’s chances of making the playoffs. And don’t even get me started on the new division names.

But worst of all is the new playoff format. It makes no sense to me that three teams from each division are guaranteed playoff spots regardless of whether Team 3 in Division A has 45 points and Team 6 in Division B has 85 points (hypothetically).

That’s not to say the new system is without advantages. I like that each team now plays every other team twice a season, and I do see the advantages of making travel time closer to equal for each franchise. But overall, I would have preferred to keep the old format to preserve the 1-8 playoff system if nothing else.

Well, I’m changing my tune a little bit. Though I hate that the new system takes away some of the suspense surrounding potential playoff matchups at the end of the season (Chicago/Colorado and Montreal/Tampa Bay have been set for weeks), I’ll admit that I’m pretty excited for the inter-division first round battles. There’s a very strong chance the Rangers will play the hated Flyers in the first round, which would take that rivalry to a new level. And the second-most likely scenario is that New York would meet the Blue Jackets, a.k.a. New York West, in their playoff opener. Awaiting the victor of the 2-3 Metro Division first-round matchup will likely be the Penguins, another team Ranger fans have no love lost for.

On the one hand, the new inter-division playoffs could make hockey feel annoyingly like baseball, since opponents could end up facing each other 12 times in a season if a series lasted until Game Seven. But on the other hand, there’s no better tool to foster rivalries than playoff showdowns.

The Rangers have played the Capitals repeatedly in the playoffs in recent years, but with only sporadic regular season meetings, the two teams never quite developed the hatred for one another you’d expect. Meanwhile, the Blueshirts haven’t met three of their four biggest rivals in the playoffs in years – they haven’t seen Pittsburgh since 2008, Philadelphia since 1997, and the Islanders since the 1994 Stanley Cup season. Just based on geography and history, the Rangers and their fans view those teams as sworn enemies, but the old animosity and intensity just hasn’t been there.

I’m hopeful that the new playoff format will change that. By the end of a best-of-seven series it’s only natural to develop distaste for the opposition, and that will come much earlier and more ferociously against pre-existing rivals. And unlike the Capitals, who were a random repeat first-round opponent, playoff series against the same inter-division rivals are now very possible year after year and should extend their tentacles into the regular season.

Realignment is going to take me a while to get used to, but if it results in the rekindling of old rivalries, then it may be worth it.

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Categories : Playoffs


  1. Chris A says:

    Interesting thing that likely means nothing:

    The last time the NHL put in place a dramatic change to their playoff format was for the 1994 playoffs.

    Even odder is that it is very likely that all four teams the Rangers beat that spring will not be in the playoffs this year (the Devils are hanging on by a thread).

  2. Rangers Fan in Boston says:

    This was probably one of the biggest reasons for the change. Outside of the obvious Rangers storylines (Philly, possible Pitt showdowns), a possible second round matchup of Boston-Montreal gets the juices flowing.

    Montreal is a candidate to surprise in this one, as the only team to give Boston fits this season. Plus, these two teams probably have the most hatred for each other of any rivalries in the EC.